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On April 24, the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Pennsylvania denied in part and granted in part a national bank’s motion to dismiss a complaint alleging violations of, among other things, the Pennsylvania Loan Interest and Protection Act (“Act 6”). The allegations stem from the bank’s servicing of the plaintiffs’ mortgage. Pursuant to a settlement agreement reached between the parties in a separate 2012 lawsuit over alleged misrepresentations made by the bank concerning whether the plaintiffs were in arrears in their mortgage and escrow payments, the mortgage principal was reset. The plaintiffs asserted that although they made timely monthly payments, a 2014 mortgage statement reflected an escrow shortage, including unpaid late charges and outstanding advance/fees. Arguing that because the loan servicers refused their allegedly timely payments, which increased the principal balance, the plaintiffs claimed that the bank breached the terms of the settlement agreement by adding the unauthorized charges without providing notice. However, the bank argued—and the court concurred—that the breach of contract claim was outside the applicable statute of limitations. The plaintiffs further alleged that the bank charged an interest rate that exceed the rate permitted under Act 6, and that the loan servicer charged the plaintiffs “undisclosed, excessive, and retaliatory attorney’s fees ‘from at least one if not two prior lawsuits,’ in violation of the [s]ettlement [a]greement and Act 6,” along with other “unwarranted charges.”
Concerning the bank’s motion to dismiss the Act 6 usurious interest rate claims based upon preemption, the court referred to the loan’s origination and rejected the bank’s argument that the usury claim was preempted by the National Bank Act, explaining that the homeowners’ mortgage was originated by a non-national bank even though a national bank was later assigned the note and mortgage. Additionally, the court rejected the bank’s argument that the Act 6 claim of unlawful attorney fees was barred by the applicable four-year statute of limitations. According to the court, “an Act 6 claim for excessive fees accrues upon payment of said fee; it does not accrue upon charge of the fee or upon the obligor’s knowledge of the fee.” However, the court determined that the plaintiffs failed to adequately allege that they made “the requisite unlawful payments of usurious interest or unlawful attorney’s fees” required to state valid Act 6 claims. As such, the court dismissed the Act 6 claims without prejudice.
On April 11, the Maryland Attorney General announced an administrative proceeding taken against a title company, its owner, and related businesses for allegedly making unlicensed and usurious title loans secured by consumers’ motor vehicles. According to the AG’s charges, the defendants, among other things, allegedly engaged in unfair or deceptive trade practices by offering consumers high-interest, short-term title loans with typical annual interest rates of 360 percent. The AG contends that the loans offered by the defendants qualify as consumer loans under Maryland law and therefore are subject to state interest rate caps. Furthermore, the AG alleges that the defendants were never licensed by the Maryland Commissioner of Financial Regulation to make consumer loans in the state. The AG seeks an order compelling the defendants “to permanently cease and desist from making unlicensed and usurious consumer loans in Maryland, to pay restitution to all affected consumers, and to pay civil penalties.”
On March 26, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 1st Circuit affirmed a district court’s decision to dismiss putative class action allegations that a bank charged usurious interest rates on its overdraft products, finding that the bank’s “Sustained Overdraft Fees” are not interest under the National Bank Act (NBA). The plaintiff filed a lawsuit against the bank in 2017, alleging that sustained overdraft fees should be considered interest charges subject to Rhode Island’s interest rate cap of 21 percent, and that because the alleged annual interest rates exceeded the cap, the fees violated the NBA. The district court, however, dismissed the case, ruling that the sustained overdraft fees were service charges, not interest charges.
On appeal, the split three-judge panel held that, because the sustained overdraft fees did not constitute interest payments under the NBA and the OCC’s regulations interpreting the NBA, the class challenges cannot move forward. The panel stated that the agency’s interpretation in its 2007 Interpretive Letter is due “a measure of deference.” The panel found the agency’s interpretation persuasive because “[f]lat excess overdraft fees (1) arise from the terms of a bank’s deposit account agreement with its customers, (2) are connected to deposit account services, (3) lack the hallmarks of an extension of credit, and (4) do not operate like conventional interest charges.”
In dissent, Judge Lipez noted that, while the OCC interpretive letter laid out a clear case for overdraft fees as service, not interest charges, it was silent on the question of “Sustained Overdraft Fees.” He wrote that “[s]ilence, however, is not guidance, and we would thus need to infer a ruling on a debated issue from between the lines of the Letter.” Furthermore, he could “not see how we can defer to an interpretation that the OCC never clearly made on an issue that it previously described as complex and fact-specific.”
On March 19, the California Department of Business Oversight (DBO) filed an administrative action to revoke the license and void loans made by a Southern California auto title lender for allegedly violating state lending laws. According to the DBO announcement, the lender allegedly, among other things, (i) charged consumers more interest than permitted by state law; (ii) failed to consider the borrower’s ability-to-repay; and (iii) engaged in “false and misleading” advertising. Specifically, DBO alleges that, in two separate examinations, it determined the lender included DMV fees in borrowers’ principal loan amounts to bring the loans above $2,500. DBO alleges these loans carried interest rates over 100 percent, while the state law cap is 30 percent for loans under $2,500. DBO also alleges the lender violated state law by failing to report the profits it made from a “duplicate-key fee” and made loans from unlicensed locations.
In addition to the formal accusation, the DBO also has commenced an investigation to determine whether the more than 100 percent interest rates that the lender charges on most of its auto title loans may be unconscionable under the law.
On March 5, the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Arkansas denied a request for summary judgment by several defendant pawnbrokers and pawnshops concluding there exists “disputed general issues of material fact” concerning claims filed by two plaintiffs who entered into pawn-loan contracts with the defendants. Among other things, the plaintiffs alleged that the defendants violated Amendment 89 of the Arkansas Constitution (Amendment 89) and the Arkansas Deceptive Trade Practices Act (ADTPA) by charging usurious rates of interest, and violated ADTPA by making false statements on pawn loan contracts (pawn tickets). The plaintiffs additionally claimed that the defendants violated TILA by failing to identify creditors on the face of their pawn tickets.
In dismissing the defendants’ motion for summary judgment, the court determined that success of the claims hinged upon whether “the pawn transactions . . . are ‘loans’ charging usurious rates of interest under Arkansas law.” Specifically, genuine issues of material fact remained on: (i) whether the defendants knowingly entered into loans charging usurious interest because “the differences between traditional bank loans and pawn transactions . . . may not prevent the pawn transactions entered into by [the plaintiffs] from being classified as ‘loans’ under Arkansas law”; (ii) whether the plaintiffs were charged usurious interest or otherwise suffered damages under Amendment 89 or ADTPA as a result of the pawn transactions; (iii) whether the language on the pawn tickets stating that “the finance charge ‘is not interest for any purpose of the law,’” was a false statement in violation of the ADTPA; and (iv) whether the defendants’ failure to disclose the identity of the creditors on the pawn tickets is a violation of TILA, because, among other things, there remains a dispute as to whether the identified finance charges constitute as “credit,” and whether certain defendants qualify as “creditors” under TILA. Furthermore, the court rejected the defendants’ argument that they were entitled to summary judgment on the plaintiffs’ TILA claims “due to plaintiffs’ alleged failure to demonstrate detrimental reliance.”
On March 1, plaintiffs filed a proposed class action settlement agreement with a debt collection firm in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York, which would potentially end litigation dating back to 2011 concerning alleged violations of state usury limitations. The proposed settlement would resolve claims originally brought by the plaintiffs alleging that the defendants violated the FDCPA and New York state usury law when it attempted to collect charged-off credit card debt, purchased from a national bank, from borrowers with interest rates above the state’s 25 percent cap. As previously covered by InfoBytes, in 2015, the 2nd Circuit reversed the district court’s 2013 decision, and held that a nonbank entity taking assignment of debts originated by a national bank is not entitled to protection under the National Bank Act from state-law usury claims. This ruling contradicted the “Valid-When-Made Doctrine,” which is a longstanding principle of usury law that if a loan is not usurious when made, then it does not become usurious when assigned to another party. Following the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision to decline to hear the case, the district court issued a ruling in 2017 (covered by InfoBytes here) holding that New York’s fundamental public policy against usury overrides a Delaware choice-of-law clause in the plaintiff’s original credit card agreement. The court granted the plaintiff’s motion for class certification, and allowed the FDCPA and related state unfair or deceptive acts or practices claims to proceed. However, the court did not allow the plaintiff’s claims for violations of New York’s usury law to proceed, as it held that New York’s civil usury statute does not apply to defaulted debts and that the plaintiff cannot directly enforce the criminal usury statute.
Under the terms of the proposed settlement, the defendants are required to, among other things, (i) provide class members with $555,000 in monetary relief; (ii) provide $9.2 million in credit balance reductions; (iii) pay $550,000 in attorneys’ fees and costs; and (iv) agree to comply with all applicable laws, regulations, and case law regarding the collection of interest, including the collection of usurious interest.
On January 23, the U.S. District Court for the District of Minnesota denied two financing companies’ (collectively, “defendants”) motions to dismiss an action alleging the defendants violated the Consumer Leasing Act (CLA), TILA, and a Minnesota law prohibiting usurious contracts through a transaction to purchase a puppy. According to the opinion, the plaintiff financed the purchase of a puppy through the defendants, which allowed her to take possession of the puppy in exchange for 24 monthly payments through an agreement styled as a “Consumer Pet Lease.” The agreement had an APR of 120 percent. The plaintiff filed suit against the defendants alleging the companies violated (i) the CLA by failing to disclose the number of payments owed under the agreement prior to execution; (ii) TILA by failing to adequately disclose the finance charge, the APR, and the “total of payments” as required under the Act; and (iii) the state’s usury law cap of 8 percent for personal debt. The defendants moved to dismiss the action challenging the plaintiff’s standing, among other things. The court, rejected the defendants arguments, finding that the consumer adequately alleged injury by stating she “would” have, not “might” have, pursued other funding had the defendants disclosed the actual interest rate. Additionally, the court determined the consumer plausibly alleged a CLA violation because the agreement contains information the plaintiff could view as “conflicting and confusing.” With respect to the TILA claims, the plaintiff argued that, although the agreement is styled as a lease, it is actually a credit sale, and the court rejected one of the defendant’s arguments that it was not a creditor, but rather a servicer not subject to TILA. Lastly, the court held the plaintiff adequately pleaded her state usury claim, but noted the claim’s viability would be better informed by discovery. Accordingly, the court denied the defendants’ motions to dismiss.
On January 4, the administrator of the Colorado Uniform Consumer Credit Code issued a memo providing introductory guidance on alternative charge loans in response to Proposition 111, which amends the state’s Deferred Deposit Loan Act (DDLA) and takes effect February 1. (See previous InfoBytes coverage here.) Among other things, Proposition 111 reduces the maximum annual percentage rate that may be charged on deferred deposits or payday loans to 36 percent, eliminates an alternative APR formula based on loan amount, prohibits lenders from charging origination and monthly maintenance fees, and amends the definition of an unfair or deceptive practice.
The memo—issued in response to creditors currently offering loans under the DDLA who have expressed an interest in offering loans imposing the alternative charges allowed by Colo. Rev. Stat. § 5-2-214—explains that such alternative charges may only be charged if (i) the financed amount is $1000 or less; (ii) the minimum loan term is at least 90 days but no more than 12 months; (iii) installment payments are scheduled in substantially equal periodic intervals; (iv) Truth-In-Lending disclosures show the loan is unsecured; (v) a creditor has not taken any collateral as security for the loan, including a post-dated check or certain ACH authorization; (vi) an ACH agreement reached with a consumer is voluntary and not required by the loan; and (vii) the loan has not been refinanced more than three times in one year.
Fifteen states urge the 4th Circuit against allowing non-tribal payday lenders to receive tribal immunity
On December 27, 2018, fifteen state Attorneys General filed an amici brief with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit opposing the use of structures in which non-tribal payday lenders affiliate with tribal lenders to benefit from their tribal immunity and avoid state usury caps. The brief was filed in an appeal from a district court ruling, which held that a Michigan-based payday lender could not claim tribal immunity in a consumer class action because it could not prove it was an actual tribal entity. The Attorneys General argue that granting tribal immunity to non-tribal lenders would “bar enforcement of state consumer protection laws as well as, potentially, investigations into their activities.” The brief rejects the payday lender’s arguments that the plaintiff should bear the burden of negating “arm-of-the-tribe immunity” and instead urges the court to place the burden on the entity seeking the immunity. Allowing a non-tribal entity to benefit from sovereign immunity without “rigorous demonstration”, the Attorneys General argue, “may well undermine the purpose for tribal immunity” and “would have serious consequences for States’ ability to protect consumers.”
The brief was filed by the District of Columbia and the States of Connecticut, Hawaii, Iowa, Illinois, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Vermont, and Virginia.
On November 6, Colorado voters approved a ballot initiative (officially referred to as Proposition 111) to reduce the maximum annual percentage rate that may be charged on deferred deposits or payday loans to 36 percent. In addition, Proposition 111 eliminates an alternative APR formula based on loan amount, prohibits lenders from charging origination and monthly maintenance fees, and amends the definition of an unfair or deceptive practice. The measure takes effect February 1, 2019.
- Buckley Webcast: Hot topics in debt collection — An analysis of recent federal FDCPA litigation
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- Sasha Leonhardt and John B. Williams to discuss "Privacy" at the National Association of Federally-Insured Credit Unions Summer Regulatory Compliance School
- Warren W. Traiger to discuss "CRA modernization" at the National Association of Industrial Bankers and the Utah Association of Financial Services Annual Convention
- Benjamin W. Hutten to discuss "Requirements for banking inherently high-risk relationships" at the Georgia Bankers Association BSA Experience Program
- Henry Asbill to discuss "Ethical guidance in conducting internal investigations – The intersection of Yates an Upjohn" at the American Bar Association Southeastern White Collar Crime Institute
- Brandy A. Hood to discuss "RESPA Section 8/referrals: How do you stay compliant?" at the New England Mortgage Bankers Conference
- Daniel P. Stipano to discuss "Lessons learned from recent enforcement actions and CMPs" at the ACAMS AML & Financial Crime Conference
- Daniel P. Stipano to discuss "Assessing the CDD final rule: A year of transitions" at the ACAMS AML & Financial Crime Conference